When I was 13 and listening to the Beatles I had a moment of clarity and decided I was going to save the world. Obviously, the world only needed a charismatic leader willing to make friends with other cultures, re-distribute the wealth a little, and save the environment. My big brother agreed to handle most of this, so I went to high school and studied history, literature and science. After all, he was going to need some help. Behind every charismatic world leader is someone who has actually done his homework.
By the time I was in college, and my brother had decided to pursue other interests, I found others who were similarly charged with saving the world; abolish apartheid in the morning, save Tibet in the afternoon, recycle. By senior year we all got really good at world saving. Then we graduated.
My father, for one, was eager for me to experience something called "The Real World," a prospect I wasn't at all sure about, but I got a job anyway. Plenty of them, in fact. I sold solar panels door-to-door after the Carter administration, but there just didn't seem to be a lot of world-saving jobs out there for a student of anthropology and Frisbee. When the world leaders failed to knock on my door, I worked in restaurants, drove a taxi, fished in Alaska, worked on construction sites and in book stores. I found my way to interesting places and met interesting people. "Maybe the world doesn't need saving," I once thought to myself privately after taking in the depth and splendor of Europe with all of its art museums, wars and churches.
Then it occurred to me that all the spiritual leaders of the world were rebels of some sort, so I considered joining a monastery in order to get closer to Jesus, the Buddha and Uma Thurman, whose father was a monk and scholar. Then I guess it just seemed easier to get famous and then sponsor stuff, like Angelina Jolie and George Clooney do. Sure, I could get really rich instead and pay for world-saving projects, like Laurence Rockefeller did, but this looked like it was going to take too long. So I took acting classes.
After some training in regional theater and in New York, I did my very best acting work while auditioning for a Jordache jeans commercial. It was very subtle work, yet I was somehow passed over and all I could think was: "Why couldn't it have been Levi's?" After several months of humiliation, I decided to become a writer. Writers were important. I had been reading their books for years to distract me from my meagerness. For a few years I wrote about kitchen remodels, photographers and a few artists, while supporting my true love, which was manual labor.
These days I occasionally get to write about genuine world-saving politicians and scientists, filmmakers, monks and environmentalists. Although I still have moments of clarity from time to time, they are about smaller and smaller matters, like how to tarp a load better on the way to the dump, or the difference between a salsa and chutney. And you know it does seem like the world might have been slowly but surely saving itself all these years without me. If I was 13 again and listening to the Beatles, I might live my life differently, because now I see: while it is cool to be important, it's probably more important to be cool.